This year we formalised a really exciting project that has long been in the making, a collaborative approach to research and education with biggest heritage park in Ireland, the Irish National Heritage Park. This project will roll into one our passion for research excellence, discovery, education and training, heritage interpretation and access.
The Irish National Heritage Park (INHP), situated on the Slaney river estuary, County Wexford, is an open-air museum which recreates the key stages in Ireland’s past.
The park contains 35 acres (14 hectares) of outdoor museum situated within natural forestry and wet woodlands, with exhibits and activities representing 9000 years of Irish History. The exhibits feature interpretations and replicas of the site types and monuments that define Irish prehistory and history. Live action experimental archaeology and living history provides visitors and students with unprecedented access to the experience and theory that informs archaeological practice.
In the earliest stages of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland (C12 AD/CE), the advancing Norman troops built a large fortification on the prominent headland at Ferrycarrig, overlooking this strategic access point on the Slaney Estuary. The impressive structure would have comprised a wooden castle set on top of a large man-made mound with a bank and external ditch, sited on a natural promontory overlooking the River Slaney and Wexford town. Nowadays, the large mound, bank and ditch are all that remain above the ground of this hugely important fortification, but archaeological excavations undertake in the 1980’s showed that substantial evidence from this troubled time is preserved below the ground. In the 19th century a war memorial, the design referencing the early Irish church round tower form, was constructed on top of this castle site, to commemorate those local soldiers who died in the Crimean War. The Irish Archaeology Field School will focus research investigations, and university anthropology and archaeology programmes on this site.
The wider project, through provision of different ‘experiences’: the project will bring our cultural heritage to life by facilitating visitors engaging in the process of archaeological excavation, thereby witnessing discovery in action. From the cornerstone of the excavation, a range of educational and practical experiences will be developed in the ‘Anglo-Norman’ section of the park that cater for the needs and interests of all ages, from young children, to the young at heart. The location of the excavation site in the IHNP park facilitates access for the ‘non-student’, allowing the visitor to immerse themselves in the archaeology, with unprecedented access to the research excavations and experiential learning.
The IHNP is part of the ExARC network, the ICOM Affiliated Organisation representing open air museums, ancient technologies research, and the scientific research value of testing archaeological hypotheses through experimental archaeology. The park is host to one of the longest running experimental archaeology sites in the world, a prehistoric site type known as a fulacht fiadh, or burnt mound, currently interpreted as a cooking pit. The park has been experimenting with cooking techniques and feeding student and visitors for 30 years.
This wealth of knowledge and expertise informs a rich and accessible programme of experience for students and visitors alike, with programmes varying from demonstrations to immersive long-stay and overnight experiences.
The Age of Discovery
Collectively, in collaboration with IHNP park technologists, and with archaeologists and anthropologists from academic and technical disciplines, we aim to provide a new unique student experience, and give visitors to the park a unique insight into the process of archaeology (from buried find to museum display) in an engaging, up-close manner, through archaeological training, archaeological tours, open air museums, volunteer experiences and interpretive displays.